Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Review: Something More Than Night

Something More Than Night Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is so much cleverness in this book that it oozes into every sentence. After finishing it up, I have to fight the urge to try to mimic its tough talking angel-protagonist’s tune. Bayliss is a tough guy immortal, an angel who’s chosen to carve out his slice of the cosmos, his “magisterium,” as if it’s a diner out of an Edward Hopper painting.

Meanwhile, Molly is a mortal – or, as the hardboiled angels call us, “a monkey” – who’s just died in an accident and been reborn as a new angel, one whose memories of her human life both cripple her and give her insights the other angels lack. Bayliss is her crass mentor, the only hope she has of making sense of the metaphysics of the multiverse she can finally take in.

Things may get a bit tricky near the end, more on that in a moment, but the star of this show is Tregellis’s deep gift for language. Bayliss is a brilliant invention, less so for his character (which works well for most of the novel) than for his endless and clever patter. His narrative style, whether he’s smoking “a pill” (or cigarette), explaining the nature of the Mantle of Ontological Consistency with its outlying “ontological boondocks,” or telling a “jasper” of an interfering Throne (one type of angel) to “scram,” his every utterance is a joy. Yes, Tregellis is showing off. Yes he must have been a philosophy or theology major (or at least spent a long time smoking pills at dingy coffee houses). But this is always fun.

I think Molly works a little less well throughout. At first her confusion means we get some of the same material in a different and somewhat less clever voice. Later, as she begins to pull things together, she’s more effective, but the story begins to stretch at the seams, so she still doesn’t quite come together.

The brilliance of this is in the premise and then again in Tregellis’s pitch perfect rendition of it. As the explanations of the situation fade and the central mystery rises, though, this starts to drag a little.

[SPOILER ALERT] For me, this takes a real downward turn when we discover that Bayliss is actually an unreliable narrator. I suppose I see what Tregellis is doing; he’s answering the cleverness of the premise with one more clever turn (that Bayliss/Gabriel is imposing not just the voice of the noir narrator but the plot as well, with him in a kind of femme fatale role).

As it plays out, though, we learn so many of the premises of this cosmos from Bayliss that it saps some of the fun to find that many of our first principles are suspect. To put it as Bayliss might, I was ready for the book to take an ontological swing at me, but I never saw the epistemological haymaker coming. That’s a sucker punch to us readers, while the rest of the book makes it feel as if we’ll be fighting under legit rules.

So, if the end disappoints me, it still doesn’t undo the fabulous beginning here. This is funny enough and clever enough in its first three quarters to make it worth reading all the way to the end.

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